Chris Sale returned to the mound last night in dominating fashion. The left-hander allowed just one runner to reach base on a single, and struck out 10 batters in his six innings of work. Sale was on a pitch count after having thrown 68 pitches in his rehab start last week, so he only threw 86 pitches while cruising through six frames. Sale looked like he was in midseason form after being out for five weeks, but the White Sox still have to be cautious. The biggest thing is to make sure Sale can stay on the mound for the rest of the season and beyond, so the White Sox will monitor how his arm and body responds after last night’s outing. As long as everything checks out fine, Sale will be toeing the rubber in five days where he will likely be limited to around 100 pitches.

State of the Rotation

Chris Sale’s return obviously helps out a beleaguered rotation that has struggled to find consistency. With Sale and Jose Quintana the White Sox have two front-end of the rotation guys, but that’s where the rest of the rotation gets troublesome. John Danks had a nice start to the season, but he was allowing too many base runners and getting out of a lot of jams to keep his ERA down. However, over the last few starts Danks has been unable to pitch over the walks, and he has been hit hard when failing behind in the count. We’ll see if Danks can correct the wildness because it is surprising considering that his walk rate is the worst of his career at 4.44 walks per nine innings. Danks’ career rate is 2.91 BB/9 and he was superb last season with a 1.76 BB/9 mark after having not pitched for a year following shoulder surgery. In my opinion, Danks is the key to this rotation. If he can be consistently above-average and solidify the third spot on the staff, then the remaining two starters will have a lot less pressure on them to succeed. With Sale’s return, Scott Carroll was sent to the bullpen, leaving Hector Noesi and Andre Rienzo as the team’s fourth and fifth starters. Ultimately, both starters are pitching for one spot because Erik Johnson will likely rejoin the rotation at some point this season. As it stands now, I’d lean slightly in favor of Rienzo as I feel he has been more consistent and he has looked better recently with an increased use of his tight slider/cutter.

Closing Situation

Closer Matt Lindstrom left Monday night’s game after coming off the mound awkwardly and injuring his left ankle.  An MRI revealed a tear in the sheath of his left ankle, and Lindstrom is scheduled to have surgery today to repair the injury. Lindstrom is expected to be out for at least three months, and his loss leaves the White Sox’ closing situation uncertain moving forward. Ronald Belisario received the first shot at closer simply because he has been the most effective reliever of late, but he has allowed five base runners and two runs while recording his first two saves. As good as Belisario has been, he is merely a short-term solution for the White Sox. With Lindstrom essentially out for the season, the White should and likely will look to find a long-term answer at closer. Daniel Webb has the arm and demeanor to close, but he has walked too many guys to be anointed closer right now. If Webb can string together some clean appearances, then he could ascend to the closer’s role in the coming weeks.  Other candidates would be Nate Jones (when he is healthy), Jake Petricka, and possibly Zach Putnam. We’ll see how this all shakes out, but expect the White Sox to eventually settle on a younger option.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07